This past week, the heaviness of the past year came crashing down on my doorstep.
Monday morning, after I had placed both little ones on the bus and was driving to my still new merchandising gig, my phone rang. That 8 bit melody interrupted my current K.Flay playlist to bring me crashing back to earth.
It wasn’t officially 8 yet, but there it was.
Low grade fever, cough, stuffy nose.
She needs to get tested before she can return. The voice on the other end said.
Ok, self. Slay the anxiety dragon for a moment. This is just a cold. It’s allergy season. This is going to be ok. We can do this. This is ok, this is all okay. Swing a U turn and head back towards the school.
I’m on my way.
You can tell when your kid is sick. There’s a glassy shine to their eyes when they have a fever. The redness sits in their cheeks differently. After enough years as a caregiver, you get this kind of sixth sense of being able to diagnose sickness just by a glance.
So when the little girl came around the corner, her bag barely on her shoulder, her mask somehow side-saddle on her face, with THAT look on her face, I knew that it was an actual situation. After talking with the school nurse and signing the scribbles I count as my name, I lead the minion to the car with what felt like lead in my shoes.
The what ifs that were playing in my head on low began to grow louder. Mental Me pulled a pillow over her ears and drove home.
After setting little Miss up on the couch with some orange juice and some blankets, I admitted that I had to hand over duties and try to get my work day started. We elbowed goodbye and again I left for my gig, driving again out of town with my head full of thoughts I’d rather not be thinking.
Further up the road and further into my own bundle of worry, the phone interrupts my music again.
And this time it’s the same song, just a different verse.
Headache, low grade fever, body aches.
He needs to get tested before he can come back.
I’m on my way.
Unlike the other one, when I see him, he does not have that air of illness. His eyes are tired but his steps are light. His backpack is a part of his outfit, not an added weight. The alarm bells that went off earlier were less loud.
However, there were less questions from the backseat, so he wasn’t his normal self. When told he’d have to take up on a couch when we arrived home, there was a slight fuss. Orange juice and blankets had to be sweetened with some digital entertainment for that one. His case situation, while causing my brain to tie itself in knots, was different.
So now there are two sick young ones, and the need for immediate testing. It’s not just an if, it was now an actual event. From a place in the corner of the room, I began texting and calling different places. Appointments had to be made, shifts had to be covered, somewhere along the way, I had to figure out where I stood needing to be tested.
Until then, Covid had been a big What if. It had been a mysterious villain that probably wasn’t interested in us because we were too unimportant. We were so unimportant because we were rule followers. We were part of those “sheep” the assholes liked to rattle on about. You know the ones that just followed along with what the “gubment” said. Those brainless, healthy, sanitized sheep.
We stayed home and washed our hands and for the most part, had immune systems that worked. We wore masks and stayed six feet apart if we went out. And really they didn’t go out. I was the only one going out. All the underagelings were locked in the tower with the key hid in the far away land of “when things are better”.
So this is happening? Now?
It felt unreal.
If you’ve ever held a 6 year old while they’ve had their nasal cavity swapped, you know that it’s not a time to show fear.
Seated in a white plastic tent on folding chairs that had made holes in the ground, I tried to hold her arms and legs and head while a PPE clad doctor leaned over us. Be she but tiny, she was fierce. At the moment when I could not magically grow new arms or coax her into accepting the momentary inconvenience, my heart had wedged itself in the top of my throat. The voices in my head sang like a chorus of worst case scenarios as desperations colored the every single syllable my Southerness could squeeze out of her.
To prove that the voices were wrong and to calm her turbulent waves in her emotional storm, I volunteered to lead by example. From the corner, hands on her brother arm, she watched me as the doctor played the part like a Daytime Emmy nominee.
“It’s not so bad.” His accent danced in my ears as the swab came towards my nostrils. My eyes welled with tears and I slid my hands unders my thighs. The rough cotton reminded me of salt water as it entered my nose. That one time at the beach? The waves were too strong and I was pulled down? This was then, and yet it was not. And I could feel my heart rate quickening.
It felt like he was wrong. It was bad. It was everything I didn’t want to do, everything I didn’t want to feel. It was like a pap smear happening in the middle of my face. I disliked it. I disliked it a lot.
But not enough for me to show. Not enough for me to allow the little girl crying in the corner of the tent to see it.
The little girl crying in the corner of the tent.
My little girl.
Crying in a testing tent because she’s afraid.
Because she might have a virus thats swept across the globe and killed millions of people and despite her and her mommy and her teachers and her ummm “government”’s best interest, was still a real fucking concern.
Maybe the doctor was right. It wasn’t that bad.
Because being in that moment was worse.
I finished and smiled a big smile hidden under my black mask, to show her it was all no big deal. I went in for a high five and she turned me down with a glare. She was too smart for my pretending. She could see right through me.
There are resources on what to do if you are sick.
How to isolate and what medicines to take. What warning signs to look for and when to go to the hospital.
However, there are no resources that tell you what to do while you are waiting for your results. Life goes back to normal, except every room you walk into is filled up by a presence you can’t see. A feeling you can’t name.
It’s not fear, but close.
It’s not dread, but something more.
It’s an unknowing,
which is so much worse.
Every sniffle and sneeze is something you have to play off because you don’t want to seem crazy, but you totally take them out of context. And as you see the green pollen collect on your black car, you know where the sniffles and sneezes are from. You know that every year at this time, you turn into a mess of tears and snot and coughs and itchy everything. But when you wake up with an itchy sore throat after taking care of care of the little ones, your heart falls.
The worst thoughts you spent time entertaining earlier all manifest and explode in your head like fireworks held too long in your hands. In the two days it takes for the test to come back, you’ve plotted how you were sick and were already dead.
How your family was going to have to dig out from under this tragedy, without you?
How are the kids going to get better?
Are they sick too?
What about your job? Whose covering your shifts?
Did that last text ever reach that person? Did it make a difference?
Who is ever going to take that last load out of the dryer?
And then the phone rings again, this time interrupting a song about needing some fucking Zen, and the very kind nurses informs me that all three of the test were negative.
Little Boy is negative.
Little Girl is negative.
I am negative.
Now, Little Girl has strep throat and needs some antibiotics and the Little Boys throat was very red and looked like it might be heading that way and since they share a room it might be wise to have some on hand…and oh how am I feeling? Well now that you mention it…
Look,I don’t know if you’ve heard yet but these times are unprecedented. And so is the stress and anxiety that comes with them. My normal state is to fear the worst. It’s extra hard now because well, now is the worst. Everything about now is pretty horrible. And it feels like ever time there are small breaks in the clouds, another storm front rolls in.
I don’t have any answers.
And at this point, I don’t even have any more questions.
I’m just trying to hang on and not fall off the carousel.
But that bastard just keeps spinning.